Abriana Chilelli is a Catholic mother of four children who lives in Denver, Colo.
Every day on their daily route to school, she and her kids would drive by a strip club downtown that featured a parked van with pornographic images of two women.
While disturbed by the images, especially on behalf of her children, Chilelli initially believed she would not be able to do anything to change it.
“The van was parked on the club’s private parking lot, but was directly facing the street passing by. It infuriated me when I saw it, but we live in a city and society which I assumed would not be offended by the image,” Chilelli told CNA.
“So, I figured what could I possibly do on a city level to get it taken down?” she continued.
However, the images on the van continued to bother Chilelli. She tried distracting her kids every time they passed by the strip club, but eventually they noticed the overt poster of two women “engaged in an obviously sexual act.”
“I got mad — furious — that my children, residents of this city, have an offensive image directed at their eye level every day that advertises the objectification of women and uses women’s bodies to advertise pornography,” Chilelli said.
Motivated to make a change, she began to research city zoning codes and found a few that she believed the strip club might be violating. She called the police non-emergency line to file a report against the club, but the police officer told her that the poster was “not violating public indecency laws in regards to clothing.”
Chilelli did not stop there, however. She took her complaints to her city councilman, who then passed her along to another councilman. Eventually, she received a response saying that the issue was being investigated.
“I expected the councilman to echo what the police officer initially told me over the phone,” she said.
But a few weeks later, Chilelli received news that the city’s Community Planning and Development Zoning board “found the club’s billboard to be out of compliance with Denver Zoning Code,” and was issuing a formal notice to the strip club.
A few days later, the van with the pornographic images was gone.
Looking back on the experience, Chilelli reflected on the need for Catholics to speak up “to proclaim what is true, good and beautiful.”
“It’s important to speak up about issues like these…I often lament the immorality of our culture at large, which for me often ends in just that — lamenting,” Chilelli said, noting that to simply “wish away the problem…doesn’t actually help.”
“I am quick to forget that I also exist in these public spaces — that my opinion and understanding about the truth of the body also exists in this public sphere we all exist together in, and that my rights as a citizen to not have to view offensive images should also be respected by our city, state, and federal codes and laws,” she continued.
Chilelli hopes that others will be encouraged by the idea that just one voice can promote change.
“[The experience] helped me realize that we can impact and affect change, despite how insurmountable the degradation of the culture seems,” she said.
Chilelli added that this particular issue was especially important to speak out against because of the confusion fostered by a culture that believes the body is for sexual gratification, exploitation, and consumption.
“I want to encourage others to not passively accept the lies our culture tells us about our bodies, to not passively accept the lies our culture tries to teach our children about their bodies.”
She particularly called upon Catholics to share the truths of their faith, which she sees as a logical response to much of the world’s confusion.
“What I do think is important is that Catholics speak the language of the culture and do their best to identify areas where our culture is seeking truth, so we can speak the Gospel message to our very confused society, bringing light to what is so very dark about our culture’s understanding of the body and human sexuality.”
Editor’s note: Chilelli is related to CNA’s editor-in-chief, JD Flynn, who was not involved in the reporting or editing of this article.